(Dedicated to PC, who dared me to write a love-less story. I hate to admit, but you won, PC. This one just doesn’t glitter. It’s been lying in my drafts way too long, so I’m finally putting it up here, as it is, in all its mediocrity.)
The crowds were up on their feet. The second boxing ring lay deserted on the fringes of the stadium. No one- the crowds or the other boxers, were interested in watching another fight, while He was in the ring.
He was swift. He was smooth. His body spotless marble, and beautiful. Sweat dripped from his hair into his eyes. The brine made his eyes sting, but he didn’t blink. The spectators were one hazy mash of flesh and colour. He tuned out their cheering and hooting like it was white noise. He could not see the helmet of the man standing in front of him. He couldn’t see its colour. He couldn’t see his vest, or his gloves guarding his jaws. Only his eyes- dark brown, flecked with black.
He breathed out. The air flaring out of his nostrils was hot. He dug his ankles into the wood panels lining the floor of the ring, clenched his jaws around his gum shield, hooked his wrist under and launched a whack to his opponent’s chin. The brown eyes fell backward from the shoulder, and as his fists flailed for balance, leaving his jaw bones open and naked, a double punch landed on either jaw. His opponent kept staggering for balance, while he swerved around and with all the momentum of his spin, launched a final blow on the right ear.
At first, the crowds were a hum, then a buzz, now a roar. They were rushing towards him, to lift him up on their shoulders, to hail him, to rip his vest off his chest. He handed himself over to the crowds.
But that was 2 years ago, the season before he dislocated his shoulder. The train jerked to a stop. He looked out the window to see which station he was at. Three more stations. He could still make it to his class on time if no one jumped in front of the train in throes of despair. It wasn’t that improbable. In Mumbai it happened a lot.
All of them ran to him the moment they saw him entering the door, gathering around his knees. They didn’t let him move till he kneeled down and gave buddy punches to each one. Toddlers were easy to handle. The kids were easy. If they cried, he just had to give piggy back rides, throw them up in the air, or make his biceps dance to cheer them up. His father never had the biceps for throwing him up in the air, he supposed. “Take it outside!” his father would groan, if he ever cried.
He had cried on his first defeat. It was a good eight months after his shoulder was dislocated. Medicines, surgery, physiotherapy, work outs. But it was really only after that first defeat, he was forced to accept it would never be the same again. His shoulder would never be the same, and his punches coming out of them would never be as fast, as hard. Like the wind, like they used to be.
He barely finished high school. He only went to college to be able to box in college championships. He always managed to slither out of classes saying he had practice. And with him getting his college every gold there was out there to get, they let him fail as many exams as he could, until they absolutely had to ask him to leave to keep their records straight.
His father had tried to give him a few speeches about “long term career plans”, “short lived athletic careers”, “future security”, but they were just scattered phrases that echoed in his mind. He hardly knew what they meant. He had perfected a 30-second knock out routine, and he was on an adrenalin high, which, back then, he thought, would last forever.
His father retired. His speeches were first numbed with alcohol and then stopped altogether. But our hero went on to win the State championships. His high school friends moved to colleges in other cities. His college buddies left for jobs. He won the National gold. Girlfriends came and went. He qualified for the Asian Games. And then with a foul shove from a heavy-weight opponent, he fell out of the ring, and his left Humerus ball came out of the socket in his Scapula, and never quite fit back right again.
He was a 24-year old toddler instructor, with a half-baked education, a ghost family and he wanted to win the National Gold medal. One last gold. After that he would never step into another ring, he swore. He would teach his classes and slip into quiet obscurity. But he was not ready yet. Not just yet. He needed adrenalin, needed the crowds screaming for him and he needed pain and he needed victory- one more time, one last time before he could give it up.
And so he started training. He had 53 days to do it. In the past he had slacked- eaten unhealthy, drunk with friends, skipped working out for weeks. You learn how to swerve a punch and then you never forget, his trainer used to say. So a couple of weeks had always been enough to have him whipping up a trail of gold behind him. 53 days was plenty, he reassured himself, slowly revolving his left shoulder. He could almost hear it creak with rust.
4a.m. Run 5 miles. 7a.m. 4 raw eggs. 2 bananas. 8a.m. Shower. 8:30a.m. Train. Teach classes. Noon. Weight lifting. 2p.m. White meat. Milk. Nap. 5p.m. Train. Teach more classes. 8p.m. Gym. 10p.m. Practice matches. 11p.m. Run 3 miles. Midnight. Roti and vegetables. Sleep. 4a.m. Run. Eggs. Shower. Train.
Day 26 and he was still getting knocked out of the ring. His was losing balance because of the thrust of his opponent’s punches. His opponent was too heavy. He needed to lose weight to fight in a lower weight category. He was currently light. He needed to be feather. He needed to lose 6.5 kilograms in 27 days. And there was only one way he knew to lose so much weight in such less time- he stopped eating, he started running 3 times as much.
Breakfast: Vitamin A pills, Vitamin B pills
Lunch: 2 Cucumbers, Vitamin K pills
Dinner: Half a watermelon, Vitamin A-Z pills
He woke up in the middle of his 4 hours slumber so hungry he wanted to eat raw potatoes. If I can live one more day without solid food I will win the gold, he’d tell himself, and drowse back to sleep out of exhaustion. He would dream of Man Chow soup and double cheese pizza and the smell of samosa pav by the train station wanted to make him cry. One more day, he would tell himself. Surely, this perseverance meant he would win the gold.
It was always that. Every challenge he put before himself, every bet he made with himself, everything he dared himself to do- “if I do this, I will win the gold”. If I can run 10 kilometers without a pit stop I’ll win the gold, if I can get on to this running train I’ll win, this pain of bleeding knuckles…if I don’t medicate it and let it sting and burn, I’ll win the gold. And as he fulfilled every bet and lived up to every challenge, every 100 grams he lost, he knew that gold was his.
He was feather. He was fast. He was a finalist. He was in the ring and ready. In his first match, the crowds had been distributed between his ring and the other, where the heavy weight match was midst the first round. Those who remembered the 30-second knock-out routine from 3 years ago had gathered around his ring with mild curiosity of what his comeback would look like. 4 days and 3 matches later, they knew he was back. It’s like his shoulder was never dislocated, like he never lost. He was invincible.
And so they cheered once again, lifting their hero up in their arms on to stage. Blood on their minds. The bell rang. The games began. He was a cyclone from go. He knew his weakness, and he knew his opponent knew his weakness. His strategy- don’t let him take his fists away from defending his face so he could attack the left shoulder. Left jaw, left jaw, right, left, right jaw, right ear. He had his opponent cornered. He could see it now. One chin, one ear with a spin, and his opponent would fly out of ring. Game over.
He drew his right fist back, ready for the final blow, and his opponent ducked. His fist hit air. His opponent shot up. The rest was easy. A double to the shoulder, and a face blow to please the referee.
It was like someone had electrocuted his left arm. He clenched it and fell down on his knees. His eyes teared. The pain was blinding. He gasped for breath because it seemed like a hot iron spoke was going through his shoulders every time he inhaled. The crowd was still cheering. The bell rang. The games were over. He crouched over, his head between his knees. And he cried. It ached so much. Someone take me away. Someone give me a pill. Give me 20.